Clashes between Belgians of Turkish origin and Afghan asylum seekers are creating challenges for State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi (CD&V), who said the fights aren’t making his search for additional refugee capacity any easier.
Belgium has been struggling with an overwhelming number of asylum seekers in recent months, made worse by the disastrous American withdrawal from Afghanistan, and De Standaard reports that the fights breaking out as a result are an added complication.
On Christmas Day, a double confrontation in Genk resulted in two stabbings. An Afghan suspect is in pre-trial detention, an 18-year old man from Genk is recovering in the hospital.
The fights are doubly complicated because they often involve refugee minors, who are all but immune to the law and cannot be deported under any circumstances. But in the most recent stabbing, while the suspect was officially registered as a minor, an investigation revealed he was actually an adult.
Adults pretending to be minors for legal benefits
Among the asylum seekers, Afghans form the largest group (more than one fifth), among unaccompanied minor refugees, this rises to 60%. Only in Austria and Germany are the populations comparable.
But for half of the Afghan unaccompanied minors in Belgium, the age is questionable. A bone scan is able to catch up to 70% of the fakers, and so Mahdi has urged competent minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) to speed up such scans.
Apart from avoiding deportation, one benefit to minor status as a refugee in Belgium is a Flemish aid package of €3,364 per year, the equivalent of about six Afghan annual salaries.
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According to Mahdi, smugglers are paid with this money, or it serves as a reason for relatives to send a minor ahead. But a few weeks ago, Wouter Beke (CD&V) denied in the Flemish Parliament that the money was an incentive.
Nevertheless, the Minister of Welfare adjusted the regulation on Mahdi's request and after cries for help from the sector. From next week on, only one third of the amount will be paid out, and the rest will be used to cover the costs of childcare.
Challenges for asylum centre staff
Marino Keulen (Open VLD), mayor of Lanaken, says the Afghans in the asylum centre there cause trouble.
“Every now and then a window or some furniture is broken, which demotivates the personnel, some of whom have already quit,” Keulen.
He says the benefits that come with minor status don’t make their reception easier. “Minors are entitled to more protection, but some of them misuse it to challenge authority. They see it as an opportunity.”
Mahdi says he’s aware of this challenge.
“Afghans are less literate than, say, Syrians or Iraqis. Moreover, they are diverse communities that do not always get along,” the State Secretary told De Standaard.
Long-term solutions are slow to come
He’s prepared to break up the young people in Lanaken in order to prevent the formation of gangs, and that those involved in the recent brawls and stabbing are under house arrest for the time being.
“A definitive solution is awaited at the end of the investigation. The only transfer the knife-thrower can expect is to prison,” said Mahdi, who agrees with Keulen that Afghan asylum seekers - including minors - would be better off waiting and being triaged at Europe's borders.
On paper, that remains an objective of the European Asylum and Migration Pact, the realisation of which is very slow.
“Two thirds of the asylum seekers have no chance of protection. But once they are within European borders, we can't get them out,” Mahdi said.